This Damien review contains spoilers.
Damien season 1, episode 1.
“What did I ever do to you?” a sad supplicant asks a statue of Jesus in an ornate church. It seems they have a personal history.
Damien opens with horror within a horror. In the middle of war torn Damascus where people are being ripped from their homes, their heads being smashed along with their religious iconography, an old woman sets the tone. Damien Thorn had been photographing the woman right before the tanks rolled in. The soon to be Antichrist’s first instincts are to help the old woman as she is about to get crushed by an uncaring invading force but she winds up giving him his first lesson in his new education.
All journalists are being deported but the head of the IMF owes Damien a favor. That might be one of the scariest things in the opening setting. Barbara Hershey, as Ann Rutledge, adds to the shadowy atmosphere by being a truly spooky spook. Rutledge describes herself as a security expert with a very specialized clientele. Kind of a bodyguard for Beelzebubs, but her clients don’t even know they employed her until she hands them the check.
Damien benefits from the audience knowing the backstory. We know more about Damien than he does. We watched him grow up from the little boy Gregory Peck tried to sacrifice on the altar of the 1976 motion picture The Omen and we recognize the little devil in whatever guise he may show up in. Even on South Park, we knew the new kid in class, Damien, was going to be trouble and call on his old man to keep him out of detention. The pilot doesn’t let us forget for a second. Even as they are building up Thorn’s cluelessness, we are getting filled in on the supernatural background through the dark music and the barely repressed images.
Bradley James is suitably bland as the well-intentioned former demon child best. There is a lot of room to grow into the powerfully evil leader he is meant to be. James is no stranger to mystical royalty, having played King Arthur on the BBC and SyFy’s Merlin.
Kelly (Tiffany Hines) pieces things together pretty quickly for a photojournalist. She takes what the old lady said to Damien, finds a biblical reference, deduces that, because Jesus was baptized on is 30th birthday and the old lady grabbed Damien’s face on his birthday, that Thorn is about to start filling his ministry as the Antichrist. While it does save time, it destroys suspense. The original movie was about suspense. An unveiling should take time. It should be savored, not poured out like a meeting with the HR department.
Of course, it helps that she has a copy of the original movie. The best thing about the series is its built in gimmick, the access it has to the images of the classic seventies horror movie. It also helps that whenever Damien Thorn sticks his hand out for a friendly shake, the earth tremors and learned men cower in fear, their eyes telegraphing horrific realities like Lorraine Newman on Saturday Night Live.
Like the Damien on South Park, Thorn was kicked out of the best schools, Exeter, Preston, Oxford, in spite of his gifts. It’s no wonder, when you see what happens to his teachers. Thorn was never properly introduced to the satanic forces around him. The professor who fills him in is the first collateral damage. It looks like death by male chorus as the familiar chants associated with the cinematic antichrist, though he was never called that in Revelations, make the old man spill his nightcap. Thorn always had a way with pets and even the Hounds of Hell respect his privacy when he’s on a cell phone but don’t like to be put on hold by biblical scholars.
Simone Baptiste (Megalyn Echikunwoke), Kelly’s sister, breaks down into the questions of the higher truths. Why do bad things happen to good people? Because that’s how things develop. The final revelations come artistically, through the photographic images. But while Harry Angel’s soulless acceptance in Angel Heart comes with Mickey Rourke’s anguished face, Damien only has swirling cameras.
The Damien pilot was painted quickly and by the numbers in broad strokes. It is shot darkly but doesn’t have the right shading on the atmosphere. We get a glimpse of what could have been as depraved as Harvey Keitel’s encounter with Jesus in his own house, but it crumbles on actual contact.